Choral Ethics Guest Blog: Time to Embrace a Global Musical Canon! ~~Benjamin Amenta
What do we mean by “Western Art Music” at the present? We may know what we “mean” but have reached a point where this concept is unsustainable. Does that mean we stop listening to and performing Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, Mahler, Schoenberg, and contemporaries derived from this “line”? No, but they should be only part of our focus. I have a distaste for music education beginning with “Western music,” only to either have moral reactions against it or have most students “rebel” into various popular music listening and performing interests. People need to understand, “good music is good music,” PERIOD. We need to be more inclusive, universal, and have enough coherency to understand and enjoy what good music is, without snobbery. It is in our interest to embrace a reasonably coherent global canon.
In our age of globalization, what purpose would this reorganized canon have? One purpose would be to properly germinate into music education for all levels of students. It could include re-framing music appreciation to be more inclusive and consider both consonance and dissonance valid. It would have the crème de la crème of musical elements invariably from any culture, yet anything in-between would be workable. Dramas and aesthetics would be at macro levels globally, then would fill in the details, properly mixing identities in our global age.
We would teach different uses of musical elements emphasized in respective styles from across the globe and throughout time. For instance, monophony, chant, both “Gregorian” and Middle Eastern; counterpoint Renaissance and Baroque in Europe; textures, orchestral traditions, including swing bands, simple harmony, folk and popular; complicated harmony, jazz; melodic improvisation, Indian classical; rhythm, African drum music; serialism and dissonance, Schoenberg through present; and dance from Latin America. We would properly teach instrumentation and not only include the four (or five) sections from “western” orchestras, we would also introduce instruments from Eastern traditions with these “sections” sometimes alone in ensembles. And would consider the pipe organ piano, organ, guitar, and also electronic beats as basic accompanying instruments that can sometimes stand on their own. Solos in singled lined instruments and small ensembles whether it be both Western chamber music, Indian chamber music, jazz combos, and rock bands.
For vocal and choral music, we would look to Africa and churches for choirs at the purest level. We could talk about how choirs merge into other ensembles and divide into three at the purest levels; folk, art, and popular/rock. We could talk about how vocal solos may come from choral works in dramas such as oratorios, cantatas, operas, and musical theater. Rap would blend music with poetry reading. Lastly, we could discuss fundamental formal designs of pieces or songs from anywhere across the globe and forms of music from certain cities or regions respectfully.
At higher levels, we can talk about the different dramas, aesthetics, and functions of music. We can consider sacredness from many cultures, and dramas in secular music. We are currently in the midst of a social justice period both in sacred, and secular dramas which will continue until equality is experienced among all peoples.
We could discuss the alternating periods of classical and romantic music from Europe; elegance, subtlety and tradition from Asia; the blues from Africa, and modernism and talk about “enjoying” rhythms of African drum music, jazz, and rock. There could be discussion of functional music of nature and agriculture done by indigenous peoples, folks seeking freedom and revolution, and also in the sacred liturgy. We can include background music with theater organ, music in restaurants, whether recorded or “lounge lizard” music, dance, and jingles.
I hope for healthier attitudes. With a universal viewpoint, we have the perspectives of both modernism and globalism, and anyone’s individual and collective worldviews. Ethical considerations in mixing identities include knowing our local heritages, interests, personal experiences, exoticism, musicianship, global perspectives, and have any appropriation treated as intellectual property.
There are still more possibilities, including even more in serialism math, but also a possible blues sonata form, modal functional harmony, the further executions of “musical marriages” from various dichotomies. Simple music could keep rolling along, with four chords and the truth with modal functionality. Modern and global themes could soon be properly at our disposal, we could invent the super-symphony, neo-baroque raja concerto grossi, or Ghanian drum corps concerti among the enrichments from this project. That all “four corners of the earth” each contribute their own crème de la crème of musical aspects manifests the social justice teaching that all cultures are equal. Inspirations from throughout all times, people, and places for our common humanity expressed in music could be better held up with a reorganized global canon.
Benjamin Amenta began piano lessons at the age of eight and received B.M and M.M. degrees in Piano Performance from the Chicago College of Performing Arts of Roosevelt University, where he was introduced to Social Justice issues in the context of Classical Music. Ben now focuses on Sacred Music. An active member of the American Guild of Organists (AGO), Ben often writes on a multitude of subjects for AGO newsletters. He holds dual AGO memberships; the Southwest Suburban Chicago AGO Chapter and he is Dean of the Northwest Indiana AGO Chapter. Ben is the Midwest Motet Society’s Assistant Music Director, as well as accompanist, and sings baritone with the chamber choir.